San Bernardino, California: Politicians Gone Wild?

As if the residents of San Bernardino needed any more bad news about their political officials, the State Attorney General, Kamala Harris, and San Bernardino County District Attorney, Michael Ramos, have just announced that three past and current public officials and one local developer were indicted on, among things, charges of bribery and misappropriation of public funds. As I have previously noted the residents of San Bernardino are unfortunately no strangers to disgraced representatives.

The alleged $102 million bribery scheme includes former supervisor Paul Biane, who is currently a fugitive from justice, Mark Kirk, the director of government relations in the county administrative office and former chief of staff for county supervisor Gary Ovitt, Jeff Burum, a partner at the now-infamous local developer, and James Erwin, former assistant assessor. "WANTED" posters for Blaine now hang in San Bernardino. That can hardly do much for public confidence.

Burum is being held on $10 million bail, while bail for Kirk and Erwin is set at $2 million. The four indictees are facing maximum sentences in state prison of between 6 and 14 years.

In the latest installment of a seemingly endless saga of political corruption, former supervisor Biane and his cohorts have been indicted based on charges stemming from a purportedly corrupt 2006 settlement involving flood control improvements in Upland. The indictment charges that Biane and company threatened and bribed members of the Board of Supervisors to approve the settlement with a developer, Colonies Partners. The indictment says that Erwin conveyed threats from Burum to Biane, Kirk and disgraced former chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Bill Postmus. (Postmus has since pleaded guilty to more than a dozen felony counts and is now cooperating with ongoing investigations).

For his part, Kirk allegedly accepted money to sway the vote of another board member. Not to be outdone, Biane and Postmus purportedly accepted six figure bribes to approve the settlement. The settlement was approved, against the advice of the county counsel and others. But why let the county's attorney stand in the face of a nice bribe?

There is, of course, something quite offensive about agreements that are reached not because they are objectively beneficial and/or productive, but because members of the deals receive kick backs. If the charges are true, there is something particularly abhorrent about public officials, who are, by definition supposed to uphold the public trust. That seems like an almost laughable goal when it comes to charges of bribery and misuse of public funds.

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